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The names of Tideway's Tunnel Boring Machines

To build London’s super sewer under the River Thames, Tideway will be using a total of six machines which all needed a name. Tradition tells us that to keep the tunnellers safe underground, a female name should be given to the machine before she sets off on her journey.

We proposed a shortlist of 17 inspirational London women with links to the local area where our machines will start tunnelling to build the Thames Tideway Tunnel.

Over 24,000 votes were cast in an online poll and the winning names have now been revealed.

The winning names

Rachel Parsons

Rachel Parsons, (1885 – 1956). Engineer and advocate for women's employment rights, she set up the first women-only engineering company in Fulham. 

Rachel Parsons, Credit: Illustrated London News Ltd, Mary Evans

In 1910 she was one of the first three women to study Mechanical Sciences at the University of Cambridge, although she, like all women until 1948, could not graduate with a degree or become a full member of the University.

When the First World War broke out, she replaced her brother as a director on the board of their father's Parsons Marine Steam Turbine Company. In particular, she oversaw the recruitment and training of women to replace the men who had left to join the armed forces and campaigned for equal access for all to technical schools and colleges, regardless of gender.

She was among the founders of the Women's Engineering Society and in 1920 she was one of a group of eight women who founded the engineering company Atalanta Ltd in Fulham Road, where all the employees were women. She was found dead on 2 July 1956 and an ex-employee stableman Dennis James Pratt was convicted of her manslaughter.

Charlotte Despard

Charlotte Despard (1844 – 1939). A key leader in the Suffragette movement and political activist, she lived in Wandsworth.

Charlotte Despard, Credit: George Grantham Bain collection, Library of Congress

Charlotte regretted her lack of education, although she did attend a finishing school in London. Following her husband's death when she was 46, Despard was encouraged by friends to take up charitable work. She was shocked and radicalised by the levels of poverty in London and devoted her time and money to helping poor people in Wandsworth and Battersea. She lived above one of her welfare shops.

Despard was a very active member of the Battersea Labour Party during the early decades of the 20th century. She was selected as the Labour candidate for Battersea North in the 1918 General Election receiving 33% of the vote.

She remained actively political well into her 90s, addressing several anti-fascist rallies in the 1930s. In 1909 Despard met Mahatma Gandhi and was influenced by his theory of passive resistance. She died, aged 95.

In London, two streets are named after her, one in Wandsworth, and another in Archway, Islington. At the end of the latter is the Charlotte Despard pub, named in her honour.

Dame Millicent Fawcett

Dame Millicent Fawcett, GBE (1847 – 1929) was an English feminist, intellectual, political and union leader, and writer. She is primarily known for her work as a campaigner for women to have the vote.

Millicent Fawcett – Seated, Credit: The Fawcett Society

In 1884, in an act of great generosity, Millicent Fawcett and her husband Henry gave their house and garden on The Lawn (on South Lambeth Road) so that a park could be established for the residents of Vauxhall. The Friends of Vauxhall Park and the South London Fawcett Group have since planted a white mulberry tree to commemorate her.

Her memory is also preserved in the name of the‑Fawcett Society, and in‑Millicent Fawcett Hall, constructed in 1929 in‑Westminster‑as a place that women could use to debate and discuss the issues that affected them.

Millicent Fawcett died in London in 1929 and was cremated at‑Golders Green Crematorium.

Dr Audrey 'Ursula' Smith

Dr Audrey 'Ursula' Smith (21 May 1915 – 3 June 1981) was a British‑cryobiologist, who discovered the use of glycerol‑to protect human red blood cells during freezing. Her work was done at King’s Hospital London, near Battersea. 

Dr Audrey Ursula Smith, Credit: MRC National Institute for Medical Research

From 1946 to 1970, Ursula had the goal of developing a viable technique for the cryopreservation of animal semen. She continued to successfully experiment with glycerol in cryopreservation, and discovered the first practical cryoprotectant molecule.

Ursula studied the use of‑glycerol‑to preserve blood during freezing, and also studied resuscitation of mammals from hypothermia.

She died in London in June 1981. According to her‑New York Times‑obituary, "her work in the development of techniques to protect frozen sperm cells from bulls has been credited with contributing to major advances in cattle breeding and animal husbandry".

Selina Fox

Selina Fox, (1871 –1958). A pioneering doctor who set up Bermondsey Medical Mission for the poor and disadvantage residents (mainly women and children) in Bermondsey. It still continues today as a charity.

Dr Fox founded the Bermondsey Medical Mission in 1904. The small clinic and eight-bed hospital provided medical and spiritual care to the most vulnerable women and children in the area. Food was distributed alongside medicine and minor operations and midwifery services were available at the small hospital.

Selina Fox, Credit: Wellcome Images

The hospital continued to provide care to the people of Bermondsey throughout World War I. In 1925, Dr Fox reported a cumulative total of 261,849 hospital attendances, 105,450 surgical dressings, 64,331 home visits and 1,567 operations in the Mission’s first 21 years. In 1929, HRH Duchess of York (the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother) opened a new hospital at Grange Road, which included an outpatient hall, surgery, dispensary, consulting rooms, an operating theatre, twenty bed ward and staff accommodation.

When the original Bermondsey Medical Mission Hospital was purchased back from the NHS in 1958, it was reopened to provide a home for the elderly, a community centre and a social club for older people in the community. The site was renamed Lena Fox House in honour of the Mission’s founder. Dr Selina Fox died in the hospital that she had founded in 1958.

Annie Scott Dill Russell

Annie Scott Dill Russell (1868 –1947). The first female scientist to work at the Greenwich Observatory and worked as a 'Lady Computer'. She worked for the Astronomer Royal. Willian Christie, and paved the way for women in science.

Annie Scott Dill Russell, Credit: Royal Astronomical Society, Photograph by Gertrude Bacon in Norway, Eclipse Expedition

Annie studied at‑Cambridge University in 1889 as the top mathematician of her year. However, the restrictions of the period did not allow her to receive the degree she would otherwise have earned.

In 1891 Russell began work at the Greenwich Royal Observatory, serving as one of the "lady computers" assigned to the solar department at a salary of four pounds per month. This was a special department set up in 1873 to photograph the sun.

Annie married a fellow astronomer in 1895 and was required to resign from her job due to restrictions on married women working in public service.

She was elected as a Fellow of the‑Royal Astronomical Society‑in November 1916, ten months after the bar on female Fellows was lifted. She had first been nominated for election 24 years earlier.

She returned to the Royal Greenwich Observatory as a volunteer during‑World War I, working there from 1915 to 1920. The crater‑’Maunder‑on the‑Moon’‑is jointly named for Walter and Annie Maunder.

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